Donald Trump tried his hand at war mongering today, taunting Russia about a US strike on Syria and daring them to shoot down an expected cruise missile attack.
Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 11, 2018
The Russian foreign ministry, being staffed by adults, didn’t comment directly.
Trump may not have noticed but Vladimir Putin is not Kim Jong-un. Bluster aimed at a puny country who probably aren’t even capable of hitting the US with anything but out of control rhetorical bombs is one thing. Taunting an unstable thug with his finger on 1800 nuclear weapons almost all of them capable of obliterating the United States is quite another.
Yesterday, a minor diplomat in Lebanon warned that Russia would shoot down any US missiles aimed at Syria and attack the source — presumably, the USS Donald Cook which is off the Syrian coast and is loaded with missiles.
Most analysts dismiss the Russian threat as unlikely given the potential for dramatic — and catastrophic — escalation if Russia were to sink a US warship. But who knows with Trump and Putin?
Russian lawmakers have warned the United States that Moscow would view an airstrike on Syria as a war crime and that it could trigger a direct U.S-Russian military clash. Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon said any missiles fired at Syria would be shot down and the launching sites targeted — a stark warning of a potential major confrontation.
Trump, who has often said a commander in chief should never telegraph his military intentions, apparently did so himself, tweeting that missiles “will be coming” in response to the suspected chemical attack that killed at least 40 people near Damascus.
“Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria,” Trump wrote. “Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’ You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”
Defense Secretary Mattis, however, indicated that evidence of what happened was still being studied. At a photo-taking session during a Pentagon meeting with his Dutch counterpart, Mattis was asked by a reporter whether he had seen enough evidence to blame the Syrian government.
“We’re still assessing the intelligence, ourselves and our allies,” Mattis said. “We’re still working on this.”
Trump suggested Monday he had little doubt that Syria was to blame, but neither he nor other administration officials have produced hard evidence. This is in contrast to an incident one year ago in which the U.S. government had video and other evidence of certain aspects of an actual attack by Syrian aircraft, which involved the use of sarin gas. Trump responded then by launching dozens of Navy cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield.
The world’s problem with identifying the culprit in what is now confirmed by WHO as a gas attack in Douma is that both sides have chemical weapons and have used them.
Assad’s favorite delivery system for poison gas are barrel bombs. Conveniently, an unexploded barrel bomb was discovered in Douma that was loaded with chemicals. Extreme skepticism is called for in these attacks as far as who is responsible because both sides — and neither side — benefits from a gas attack. That’s how screwed up Syria is right now.
But you can’t wait months for the UN experts to determine who dropped the ordinance. So we are likely to hit the Syrian air force again. This time, we’ll have the help of Great Britain and France as well as some of the Gulf Arab states.
And if a few unlucky Russians are grabbing a smoke outside when the missiles hit?
“If there is a strike by the Americans, then … the missiles will be downed and even the sources from which the missiles were fired,” Alexander Zasypkin told Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV Tuesday evening in Arabic, according to Reuters — the comment that some believe prompted Trump’s tweet.
But the Kremlin itself has avoided repeating the shoot-down warning, when asked repeatedly about it Wednesday. Nor has Russia’s Defense ministry, which has not said what its response to U.S. strikes would be. So far, the Kremlin has seemed to avoid sabre-rattling. The Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov called for “all countries” to stay away from “destabilizing steps” around Syria, on Wednesday.
Following Trump’s Tweet, Russia’s defense ministry released a statement saying only that the U.S. should rebuild the city of Raqqa, that it helped re-take from the Islamic State, before launching new strikes. The ministry made no reference to its earlier warning that it would target U.S. missiles threatening its forces.
However, the danger of a clash still exists, as Russia’s foreign ministry has warned repeatedly that strikes can lead to “the most grave consequences.” The danger of hitting Russian forces in Syria is also real — Russian military advisors are embedded in many areas with Syrian forces and located at government facilities.
Putin has been seething for years about US criticism of his annexation of Crimea, his war in Ukraine, and now, his alliance with the ghastly villain Assad. The man who bemoaned the end of the cold war would like nothing better than to give the US a bloody nose in Syria.
But reality is likely to intrude on Putin’s revenge fantasy and, like the US strike last year after a confirmed Assad gas attack on civilians, Russia will do nothing.